Emerson takes Island County helm

More than a year of debate was settled when Island County Commissioner Kelly Emerson was appointed chairperson of the board.

The decision was made earlier this month at the commissioners’ informal Wednesday work session. Emerson and fellow Republican Commissioner Jill Johnson  supported the change while Democrat Commissioner Helen Price Johnson was against.

The position has been a matter of controversy for more than a year. The seat is usually rotated annually among board members but Emerson was passed over in 2012 by her Democratic colleagues, Price Johnson and former Commissioner Angie Homola.

Emerson was nearly skipped again this past January when Johnson and Price Johnson, who had been chairwoman for two years at the time, gave the estranged Camano commissioner two months to hammer out her long-standing issues with the planning department.

For more than two years, Emerson has been battling with department officials over an un-permitted home project. She owes $37,000 in fines and issues with an alleged wetland remain unresolved.

Price Johnson refused to support Emerson’s bid until the matter is settled and held fast to that position last week. She also asked the board to table a decision until a Monday meeting, where testimony from the public could be heard.

Emerson declined to support the request. Despite being a champion for public comment in the past, she said she believed this was one of many decisions for the “executive branch to deal without all kinds of outside participation.”

“I think it should be done at that level ... it doesn’t need to go beyond that,” Emerson said.

It fell to Johnson to be the deciding vote. Johnson said she believed rotation is important and does not believe Emerson’s beef with the planning department warranted further delay.

“I’ve looked into the issues and I feel, at this time, I’m comfortable moving forward with this recommendation for chairmanship,” Johnson said.

She also thanked Price Johnson for her leadership and advised Emerson to “take the reins and show the same type of collaborative leadership” that she has witnessed since taking office.

Price Johnson argued the issue is not personal or about politics. She even said she would support a bid for Johnson to lead the board. This is about Emerson’s refusal to pay her fines and a demonstrated lack of “leadership by example,” she said.

“My position on this hasn’t changed. … We ask people every day to follow our rules and administrative process and I just don’t believe she’s chosen to do that and that’s the stumbling block for me,” Price Johnson said.

Emerson took the helm at the next regular meeting.

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